Photo: Children and parents join Safe Routes to Laurel School Lower Campus
This post was written by our summer intern, Clay Volino
With a moderate, mostly rain-free climate and flat terrain, Silicon Valley seems to be an ideal place to ride a bike. When Jen Wolosin moved to Menlo Park about five years ago with her daughter preparing to enter kindergarten at a school just under a mile from her home, she “just assumed that [her daughter] would bike there.” That thought vanished once she found the commute involved a narrow street without sidewalks jammed with parents dropping off their children by car, commuters trying to avoid busier major streets, and new high school drivers. She initially let go of the bicycling dream and bought a minivan to start a carpool.
Feeling “angry and frustrated” with the same street conditions for years, Wolosin sent an email to anyone she could find that essentially proclaimed “something’s gotta be done about this street.” Her personal experience with outreach eventually led her to find parent representatives at each school in the Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City school districts and start Parents for Safe Routes to advocate for change across Menlo Park. With a “grassroots structure” that allows advocacy at multiple levels, Wolosin and her group mounted campaigns against distracted driving, moved school bike rodeos from schoolyards to streets, and established “bike trains” to elementary schools (including one along the street that started it all). After Wolosin spent time “drinking a lot of coffee” at meetings with local leaders, the City of Menlo Park agreed to implement an official Safe Routes to School program where city staff will take the lead and a still-crucial “supporting role” for parents. This success won Parents for Safe Routes the 2018 SVBC Program of the Year award.
Wolosin enjoys the “intellectual stimulation” of research related to Safe Routes and the opportunity to meet “amazing people who really care about the community.” However, she emphasized that one can make an impact as an advocate without such an intense time commitment. That could mean volunteering at a bike safety event, writing to a city council member, or perhaps joining an award-winning organization by serving as a school representative with Parents for Safe Routes.